DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (USA 2022)
Directed by Sam Raimi
DOCTOR STRANGE is one of the lesser known Marvel characters than Spider-Man, Thor or Captain America, a fact that makes the film more interesting. Director Raimi and writer Michael Waldron keep their film strange and fascinating leaning their film more towards the horror genre with low monsters and scares. The multiverse is explained in the film and emphasized as real and dangerous.
In the Marvel comics, Doctor Strange serves as the Sorcerer Supreme, the primary protector of Earth against magical and mystical threats. Strange began as an extremely talented but egotistical surgeon who loses the ability to operate, after a car crash severely damaged his hands beyond repair. Searching the globe for healing, he encounters the Ancient One, the Sorcerer Supreme. Strange becomes his student, and learns to be a master of both the mystical and the martial arts. He acquires an assortment of mystical objects, including the powerful Eye of Agamotto and Cloak of Levitation ( a red garment extensively used in this film). With his friend and valet Wong (veteran Hong Kong actor Benedict Wong), they defend the world from mystical threats, which in the film is extended to the universe.
The story is simple taking out the trimmings. Doctor Strange has to save the universe by destroying Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) previously Wanda Maximoff. But into the story is weaved with subplots and past stories such as Strange’s ex-lover Christine (Rachel McAdmas) getting married and his saving of a girl, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) with unharnessed powers of travelling through multiverses.
American is shown in one scene with her parents. She is from another planet and has two mothers. Because of this lesbian LGBT segment, the film has been banned in the United Arab Emirates and might suffer the same fate in China. Kudos to Disney to be brave enough for the LGBT inclusion. Blacks, Chinese and Hispanics also make up the eclectic cast.
The film’s best scene demands mention. Surprisingly, it is not an action set-piece but a segment in which Strange and America are hurled through may universes. The special effects are extraordinary and have to be seen to be believed,
As in other Marvel superhero movies a, few surprises in the form of other superheroes make cameos. Among these include X-Men and of course Wanda from the hit Disney series WandaVision. The two children who play the children in WandaVision also play the two children in this film - getting star billing. As in other Marvel films, there are also surprises at the end during and after the closing credits. There are actually three of these, one appearing right at the very end, after 10 minutes of credits. So, it is best to stay right to the end. After all quite a bit of work is expended in creating credits.
As the world recovers from the Pandemic and audiences head back to the theatres DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is the perfect outing for a blockbuster action hero movie. The film delivers lots of action, super effects and surprises in a scarier setting and the film is estimated to gross a whopping 200 million opening weekend and $500 million total domestically.
ESCAPE THE FIELD (USA 2022) **
Directed by Emerson Moore
Director Emerson Moore’s (Moore also served as one of the film’s producers) horror action thriller has the well worn premise of strangers waking up without memory of how they got to a strange place and then having to escape from the place using their wits and whatever tools they can get their hands on.
The fear is inescapable and the suspense nonstop in ESCAPE THE FIElD for the strangers, a somewhat gripping horror-thriller about six strangers who suddenly awaken in a remote, seemingly endless cornfield. Stripped of their possessions, they are left with only six items among them: a gun with a single bullet, matches, a lantern, a knife, a compass, and a flask of water. As mysterious sirens blare in the distance and traps appear at every turn, the group realizes they have been plunged into a cat-and-mouse game with an unseen evil, and survival depends upon solving a diabolical — and deadly — puzzle.
Films with this premise include THE MAZE RUNNER where teens had to run and escape through remembering previous routes through a maze. Then there is the more recent TIN CAN where a female awakes in a tight chamber resembling a tin can. But closer to ESCAPE THE FIELD is the Canadian thriller CUBE where strangers wake up in a cube, each possessing a special talent - talents that have to be used in order to escape. In ESCAPE THE FIELD, all the six items found on the bodies of the strangers need to be used together to solve the puzzle. And each of the item’s use is not as clear as it might appear. The compass leads to a scarecrow but not in the usual way.
The six strangers, as expected, come from a variety of backgrounds, each with previous baggage like the Iraq War or a broken relationship. These distractions usually work against the film’s theme but thankfully, director Moore keeps the distractions to a limit. Fortunately too, is the absence of romance among any of the strayers though the main male and female end up trusting each other, though their initial meeting started with much distrust. The film contains a few scary features - the prop of the scarecrow that keeps appearing being the most effective and creepy. From start to finish, director Moore keeps the pace of the action going. But the well-worn theme, the scares and action eventually end up with a film containing too many familiar scenes and set pieces that audiences have seen before in films before. Still ESCAPE THE FIELD is an entertaining time waster, requiring little concentration and mental work from the audience to appreciate. Warning that the film contains a few violent scenes that might have one turning one’s head away. Quite a number end up with violent deaths, with little skimping on the gushing blood.
ESCAPE THE FIELD opens in select U.S. theatres but can be seen worldwide on VOD and Digital on May the 6th, 2022.
HOLD YOUR BREATH: THE ICE DIVE (Finland/UK 2022) ***
Directed by Ian Derry
In competition with Toronto Hot Docs 2022 which is presently happening, comes Netflix’s short and sweet no-nonsense documentary about ice diving, something many have not heard before unless one lives up in extreme cold winters.
The doc is about an ice diver. First of all, it explains what ice dives are and how dangerous they are before introducing the audience to one such ice diver, the dauntless Johanna Nordbald of Finland. Johanna stars as herself and is in almost every frame of the picture.
The record, according to the doc, that a diver has ever swum under the ice in one breath is 50 mores for women and 80 metres for men. Johanna attempts to break the record. Johanna, like other ice divers, pushes themselves to the limit. The climax of the doc shows Johanna at her final dive. Whether she breaks the record or not is the film’s climax and will not be revealed in the review.
Director Derry’s doc follows the path of the typical sports doc. He includes the background of the subject, in this case kept short and sharp. Johanna is aided very much by her sister Elina. Her mother says that Johanna has always said girls can do as much as boys and she has attempted to prove this many times in all sports as a kid. Now, both Elina and Johanna have families and children and have to balance the ice dives with work and family.
The doc contains many underwater shots and the stunning cinematography has to be praised. There is no d.p. listed in the imdb credits, so it is assumed director Derry did all the camera work. Sound mixing with ice cracking and water swishing add to the film’s authenticity.
The film never fails to highlight the difficulties Johanna faces. She had to rest due to an injury and then due to the Covid Pandemic when everything was shut down. To add fuel to the fire, when she returned, the record of 50 and 80 metres had been broken. She now has to swim longer distances.
The problem of climate change also comes into the picture. There must be sufficient ice for the dive to be successful. Johanna had to relocate her dive up north as winters had been the warmest in Finland. The ice dive ended up at Hossa National Park on a clear lake in Northern Finland. Hossa is a village in Finland, located in the province of Oulu and part of the Suomussalmi municipality. The village is a popular outdoor tourist destination and can be seen in the film as utterly stunning. Hossa is an old ‘Sami’ word meaning a place far away.
The last stretch of the film. with underwater photography showing Johanna swing under water without any aid and in one breath is breathtaking. The doc also shows the necessary crew - medics, technicians, ice experts involved in the sport.
HOLD YOUR BREATH: THE ICE DIVE is a straight forward no-nonsense doc about the little known sport that should prove both enlightening and entertaining while illustrating once again the triumph of the human spirit.
PETITE MAMAN (France 2021) ****
Directed by Céline Sciamma
Mesmerizing, beautiful and magical, director Céline Sciamma’s latest film about loss and discovery from the point of view of a young girl, Nelly (Josephine Sanz) is an unforgettable film that is a must-see. This is the director that has amazed critics with festival hits like PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE and demonstrated her smarts with her script for the amazing animated MA VIE EN COURGETTE, nominated and should have won the Oscar for Best Animated feature.
When Nelly’s granny dies at the film’s start, she goes to her home with her parents and meets a girl her age, also long somewhat like her. As she plays and gets acquainted with Marion, it turns out that the new friend is her mother when her mother was her age. The film moves in and out comfortably, between times, between personalities as Nelly learns about her mother. The two often play in the woods, made colourful by the multicoloured leaves, beautifully shot, assumed in the autumn when leaves change colour. There is immense intelligence and sensitivity and remarkably thought-out scenes like the connection between the two girls while having soup, making pancakes or playing. The two girls look very alike and it is difficult to distinguish one from another. The mother has lighter hair and is called Marion while the other has darker hair, called Nelly. The English translation of the title LITTLE MOTHER prepares the audience for Nelly to meet her maman when she is little.
PETEI MAMAN treats the innocent girls as adults with maturity in their thinking, unadulterated by the grownup world. Example: Nelly’s secret is not shared not because she keeps it hidden but for the reason that there is no one to tell the secret to.
PETITE MAMAN premiered at Cannes and was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. A superb and delightful gem about girls in their fantasy yet mature world! Film is playng at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
REFLECTION (Ukraine 2021) ***
Directed by Valentyn Vasynovych
The current Russian invasion of Ukraine has spurred Ukrainian cinema as of late. REFLECTION is one such reflection of the war as seen by one Ukranian surge. This war that started in November of 2014, the first year of the war is the film’s setting. The drama follows the release of the Ukrainian surgeon as he seeks an escape from the traumas of war. The film was a 2021 Venice Golden Lion Nominee.
In 2014, Serhiy, a Ukrainian surgeon, enlisted to fight Russian military forces in the Donbass region, where he was captured by enemy soldiers. Now a prisoner of war, he witnesses horrifying scenes of humiliation and violence at the hands of the Russian invaders. In addition, his captors co-opt his medical background to dispense mercy killings to the tortured. After his release, he returns to his comfortable middle-class apartment, still suffering from the trauma of his experiences. Looking inward, Serhiy tries to find a purpose in life by rebuilding his relationship with his daughter and ex-wife, learning how to be a human being again through being a father.
There is nothing humorous about the war. The humour injected into the film is as odd as what might be deemed Ukrainian humour. One one scene during a celebration part, an enactment of a battle with guns and people shot is staged. “Not funny” comes from one of the families. In another, a girl describes what her grandmother says about her brother going to war: ``If you die, do not come back.” Again the girl says that the honour is not funny and she did not laugh.
The torture scene are quite vivid. The most graphic is the beating that includes drilling an electrical drill into the leg of a captured soldier, sound and all, after which the doctor is asked to check the soldier when he passes out.
When a pigeon crashes into a window and dies, the doctor’s daughter asks him the reason. The pigeon sees the reflection of the sky in the window, he explains. Just as he reflects the past as a POW, that reflection could be just as deadly, a point that is subtly brought out by director Vasynovych. Despite its serious and sombre nature of the theme, the film contains many stunning images, many well staged and shot wth one take.
REFLECTION is part of Film Movement’s UKRAINIAN FILM COLLECTION, a collection of new, critically acclaimed Ukrainian films, all of which depict the experience of Ukrainians in the Donbas - the contested Eastern region occupied by Russian-backed separatist militants that served as a pretext to the current crisis. For all screenings, the company is donating 10% of gross ticket sales to the Ukraine Crisis Fund administered by Americares. Americares is a BBB-accredited charity, currently providing rush emergency support for Ukraine, delivering medicine, medical supplies and emergency funding to support families and people affected by the Ukraine crisis.
Also to note is that additional films in the UKRAINIAN FILM COLLECTION include Sergei Loznitsa’s acclaimed dark comedy, DONBASS, which opens at New York City’s IFC Center on April 8 and the Sundance Award-winning documentary THE EARTH IS BLUE AS AN ORANGE (4/22). REFLECTION, Valentyn Vasyanovych’s powerful wartime drama opens May the 6th on VOD and Digital as well as in select U.S. theatres.
THE TWIN (Finland 2021) ***
Directed by Taneli Mustonen
THE TWIN is a Shudder original horror film from Finland. The film opens in the U.S. however, with a car driving across miles and miles of corn field. Before one can blink an eye, a car accident results in the driver, a woman in hospital. It appears that one of the twins, Nathan, dies as a result. The family is traumatized. The father, the mother Rachel and what is assumed the other twin, Elliot relocate to Finland as Rachel has to leave the house in the States as it reminds her too much of Nathan.
Following the aftermath of this tragic accident that claimed the life of one of their twins, Rachel (Teresa Palmer) and husband Anthony (Steven Cree) relocate to the other side of the world i.e. Finland with their surviving son in the hopes of building a new life. What begins as a time of healing in the quiet Scandinavian countryside soon takes an ominous turn when Rachel begins to unravel the torturous truth about her son and confronts the malicious forces attempting to take a hold of him.
The beautiful Finnish town in the North they relocate in is in the north east corner of Finland. Courtesy of the director of photography, this is one stunning place, with forests and lakes, a place that is perfect for convalescing.
The townsfolk act totally weird towards the couple. An elderly woman, Helen warns Rachel of impending horror. “Listen to me, I am not a crazy person,” Helen tells Rachel. The surviving twin, Elliot, claims that Nathan is around and arranges for his mother to meet the dead Nathan. When things turn weird, Rachel eventually turns to Helen. Amidst all the weirdness, Rachel’s husband seems unconvinced. They do see a local physician who says that Rachel is the problem.
THE TWIN is a solid psychological horror movie from Finland that churns out sufficient mystery, thrills and scare making it one of the better Shudder originals on the streaming service. At the 30 minute mark of the film’s running time, the audience will wonder: “Is this a haunted house movie?” Or “a demon possession movie?” “Or Is this a pagan ritual sacrifice horror flick?” Or perhaps just a psychological mystery where the horror is just imagined in the mind of the protagonist. The answer soon becomes clear at the film’s half way mark but there is another test in the plot near the end. When all is revealed, a few loose ends are left unanswered - such as the character of Helen and how she knows so much about the family.
It is apparent that the director is well versed with American horror flicks. He makes good use of camera angles, the huge countryside house the family lives in and the soundtrack and sounds that go bump in the dark to invoke the scares.
The Finnish film THE TWIN is shot in both English and Finnish. This is the first and only Finnish horror film that this reviewer has watched and hopefully not the last.
VORTEX (France 2021) ***
Directed by Gasper Noé
Filmmaker Gasper Noe has never failed to astound audiences - though not always in a good way. Take his SEUL CONTRE TOUS. In the film’s last 10 minutes, a warning appears on screen with the image of a clock ticking that if one thinks one cannot stomach what is to come, then leave the cinema within one minute. When I first viewed this film at TIFF, most of the audience did not leave. But when the last 10 minutes of film unfolded which involved a father raping his retarded daughter, a quarter of the audience walked out. His last film CLIMAX which displayed the best of dancing also created quite the stir with the dancers all high on the LSD laced punch. The best Noé film remains his first short hour feature CARNE with Jean Much Godard-like titles and the film displaying humour and oddity.
VORTEX follows the lives of an elderly couple - the wife (Françoise Lebrun) suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s and growing worse exponentially while the husband (played by Italian gallo master Dario Argento who made SUSPIRA, OPERA, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) suffers from heart attacks. The son (Alex Lutz) has a noisy little boy and is hooked on crack, smoking up quite often in the house. One thing is for sure - despite the family dysfunctionality , the three have a strong loving relationship for each other. The elderly husband cares for his wife, the son for his father and so on. But their circumstances do not help. VORTEX, shown in split screen, so that director Noé can show two camera angles of one scene, is not an easy film to watch. VORTEX achieves what it is purposed to do, show the extremely difficult daily routines of the three, but one can hardly say the film is entertaining. It os a brutal 2 hour and 20 minute watch, beautifully acted and staged while fluid camerawork, nonetheless.
Director Gaspar Noé created the project after suffering a dangerously severe brain hemorrhage which very nearly killed him. When he recovered, he became sober and began filming. As expected, VORTEX is devoid of humour but filled with human drama. But there are bouts of tenderness as well.
Director Noé has his fan base, and I am one of them after being mesmerized by CARNE, which was followed by art-house hits like ENTER THE VOID, CLIMAX and IRREVERSIBLE. He has a new film premiering at Cannes this year. LUX ÆTERNA is the title of his new film about his own psychic freakout on witches starring Beatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg, two famous French stars, a film that should be on everyone’s watch list.
VORTEX arrives and is currently playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. It arrives without much publicity as the publicist does not wish to send streaming links, insisting that the film best (and rightly so) on the big screen to experience the split screen process. As said, VORTEX is not an easy watch but a film that delivers more of an experience than anything else.